The War Drums of 1914

Who has not found themselves staring into the face of danger only to see it disappear as you awake from a dream?

 Harriet Lyons wished that she could snap her fingers and awake from a nightmare when her husband delivered his news.  It was a moment that did not entirely surprise her, but one she had hoped would never materialize.

As she listened to the words roll off her husband’s tongue, only one stuck in her mind.  Her world snapped frozen as it hit her at the speed of a bullet, impacting her before she realized what it was.  That very word rocked her existence in the split second it took to reach her ears.  “Enlist” was the word that changed her life forever.

“Why?” was all she could manage to say, once she regained her composure.  Although she needed no answer, as she knew her husband of 12 years.  She knew that he would feel compelled to do his duty.  But what about his duty to his family?  Shouldn’t that count more?

“Cis, the war office is calling for men of my experience.” Will continued.  “They need people who can train young men to be soldiers.”

“But, Will, how am I to manage?”  Cis’ mind was by now racing, panicking at the thought of running a farm single-handedly, as well as looking after four young children.  “My Father and brothers have their own farms to run. Who’s going to help me?”

“Cis, I wouldn’t do that to you.” Will softened his tone as he covered his wife’s hand with his own. “I have sent a telegram to young Tom Hourigan, asking if he’d be willing to move up from Dalby.  He can stay here on Fontenoy and help you”

“What if he is unable to Will?  What then?”

“Let us wait and see,” Will replied.

Cis looked down at her lap as she asked, “How long will you be away?”  She was afraid to look Will in the eye, afraid of the possibilities her question implied.

“The war is expected to be well and truly over in a few weeks,” he tried to reassure  his wife, as well as himself. “That time will fly. You’ll see.”

“I suppose so…” Cis’ voice trailed off as she tried to digest the gravity of what she was hearing.

“We’ll have to tell the children,” Cis kept thinking of the practicalities of her predicament.  She knew that no amount of talking would change Will’s mind.

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The Lyons family bought this house and had it relocated from Mexican Street, Charters Towers in 1912.  A carpenter pulled it down, marked every piece of timber, then painstakingly rebuilt the house on “Fontenoy”, Minehan Siding, for the sum of 180 pounds.

With thoughts churning relentlessly in her mind, Cis stood up from the sitting room chair and stared out through the open French doors, beyond the verandah and watched the afternoon sun lower its summer glare over the last day of her life, as she knew it.  The wind had picked up momentum and whistled as it raced across the  drills of charred  cane that stood as dark and lifeless reminders of death against the warming sky. With the heaviness of smoke from last night’s fire, the air was afloat with wisps of charred thrash and ash, remnants of life that had been quelled by its angry flames.  Cis suddenly felt vulnerable as her world began to change.  She struggled to breath.

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Cane paddock on Fontenoy

The openness of the land and the smell of fire, which she normally found comforting, now signalled danger.  On that afternoon in October 1914, she closed the doors and drew the curtains, making her house a cocoon to protect her family from the world.  Since purchasing their house and relocating it from Charters Towers two years before, it had become her safety net from the elements, from dangerous wildlife, from the hidden dangers of living in isolation. Now it was becoming a bunker to protect her family from a war that was encroaching on their world. With the setting of the sun, she could feel the normalcy of her life slip away.

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Loading cane on Fontenoy in the late 1920s.  LtoR:  Jack Lyons, Jack Egan, ?, and Kevin Lyons.

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